Business Casual Knits

Something I’ve alluded to but maybe not directly stated is that one month ago I started a full-time job in a fairly conservative, upscale office. I love my job, and I’m happier than I ever imagined being every day (thank God).

I did notice, though, that my wardrobe was a bit of a mish-mash of pieces that didn’t immediately seem to add up to higher-end business casual attire. I read a very helpful article on Jezebel, How to Dress for Work, and I adopted the advice of a sort of “work uniform,” the same type of clothes layered together each day. For me it’s been either pencil skirt + blouse + cardigan, or dress + cardigan, with stockings and heels. Simple, easy, and surprisingly comfortable.

You may notice that the word “cardigan” appears twice in my work uniform repertoire, and you would correctly assume that I have a lot of cardigans in my closet. My love and need for cardigans was one of the big reasons I learned to knit years ago. So as I look through my queue and think about projects I’ve imagined myself wearing in some distant future, my focus has now turned toward the more “business casual” or office-ready garments.

My definition of office-ready may be a little different or pickier than others’, but for the time being, I am seeking flawlessly-finished (in my parlance, that would be seamless), finer-gauge, classically detailed, versatile styles that still have a bit of visual interest and personality to them. That works out rather tremendously because those are exactly the type of sweaters I most enjoy knitting anyway.

© Cascade Yarns / Vera Sanon

One such endeavor is the lovely Summer Waves Cardigan (PDF), which I’ve started above. I’m planning to lengthen the sleeves, and I’m toying with adding one of the lace repeats from the collar band to edge the sleeves. I picture wearing this over a summery dress, with a skinny belt.

I hope it looks as nice in the office as it does in my imagination!

FO: Peggy Sue Cropped Cardigan

Pattern: Peggy Sue by Linda Wilgus, a free pattern from Knit on the Net. My project page is here.
Size: L (42″)
Yarn: Knit Picks CotLin 8-ply DK weight, 70% cotton / 30% linen, in Sprout; I used less than 5 balls, approximately 250 grams, which was 615 yards / 562 meters.
Needles: Size 6 (4.0 mm)
Modifications: Omitted waist cables, knit button band in garter stitch, continuously with body.

Started: June 18, 2010
Finished: August 15, 2011*

* – Actually, I finished knitting it July 19, 2010, then I took until August 15, 2010 to block it. Then I thought about buttons for a year and finally sewed them on August 15, 2011. Then I waited another 9 months to actually wear it out and photograph it.

In an unprecedented streak of FOs, I have another little cropped cardigan. I realized recently that if I wear my hand-knit garments when I meet my mother for the ballet, I can ask her nicely to photograph me with a scenic Upper West Side backdrop, at a time when my hair is brushed and I am (more or less) put together. These results obviously vary, and while my mother is a very talented photographer on her own, I don’t think she particularly excels at snapping flattering shots of me. But to be fair, I’m probably not going to like any photographs of myself until I am at a healthier weight, so I’m going to shut up and be content that she obliged me in taking any photographs at all. And get to talking about the knitting.

I like this style of cropped cardigan very much because it gives modesty to low-cut spring or summer dresses, without adding bulk or a bunch of fabric around one’s waist and back. I’ve noticed that a lot of “summer cover-ups” that can be found in stores tend to hang past the hips and obliterate any sense of the silhouette. I think they try to make up for the one-size-fits-all lack of shaping with open weave crochet and a sort of beachy vibe, but to me, that tends to accentuate the frumpiness. I realize this is totally a personal bias, but for me, I want something that seems a bit more tailored, while still having the ease and softness of a sweater.

This project involved a lot of pausing and deliberating, which could rightfully be interpreted as dragging my feet. I loved the original design straight off. At the time though, I had an intense cable aversion, after working too many teeny tiny cables on socks, so I decided to omit them and put ribbing in their place. Predictably, the design sort of depended on the cables pulling the sweater in at the waist, which mine does not do. I further modified the shape by continuing in stockinette longer than I should before switching to ribbing because I didn’t want the switch to hit at a weird spot on my bust-line (I’m sure everyone has that one top with the seam that insists on riding up and making it look like your breasts are falling out the bottom).

These modifications probably would have been alright if I had added in a little waist shaping or continued the ribbing longer, but I was limited by both the amount of yarn I had to use and by the total lack of elasticity in this cotton/linen blend. I genuinely love the yarn, and I was impressed by how comfortable it was to wear and the nice drape it had – but it is not a clinger in any way. It gives the sweater a sort of popover feel, without veering too far into boxiness, so it still feels nicely retro and feminine.

It’s also entirely possible, based on the wideness of the neckline, that I’ve knit too large a size or that my gauge was completely off. I honestly never checked because I liked the fabric I was getting. Ah well.

One of my biggest concerns was that the button bands not gap at all, even in the slightest. This fixation may be part of why I was okay with a roomier size. I took a page from a seamless baby cardigan that I had knit, working the button bands at the same time as the body of the sweater. I chose to work them in garter stitch, instead of moss stitch called for in the pattern, because I reckoned that would match better with the ribbing I was planning. I also off-set the buttonhole by one stitch, so that there was slightly more fabric on the outer edge of the band, and I sewed the buttons a little bit off-center as well.

I’m glad I paid attention to the buttons. They can make or break such a simple garment. I’m trying to be mindful of this type of finishing detail, much as I loathe sewing on buttons, because in the end, I’m really happy with these. They’re a shiny plastic that is a nearly perfect color match for the yarn, with pretty abstracted flower shapes that pick up the springtime, garden idea. I was careful to sew them all exactly horizontally (despite their appearance in this photo) so the front band would have a uniform feel. Considering I will most likely exclusively wear this sweater buttoned, I’m very pleased that the bands don’t gap at all and the whole thing looks tidy.

I think if I had it to do again, I’d knit this sweater in a stretchier yarn, or I’d go another direction with a fluffy mohair or angora. I would also get over my aversion and knit the cables because I think they would have impacted the shape significantly.

Still, this is a cute and wearable top. Its seamless construction made it both highly enjoyable to knit and incredibly comfortable to wear. Now I just have to get the Buddy Holly song out of my head.


Previous Entries on this Project:

Color Decisions

I’ve been thinking about color lately, which is an interesting reprise from painting in only black and white. Chinese scholars felt that within a black and white image, the receptive viewer could see all colors, and that a black ink painting would allow a person to dwell in the realm of the imagination.

When faced with color decisions in knitting, I expect it to be easy. In mass manufactured supplies, there are certain standard dyes and pigments regularly used – it should be easy to match them and find ones that go together. Ha.

A few weeks ago, I bought these three ribbons as possibilities for my Summertime Tunic. Each had their merits, but I couldn’t decide. At the time I favored the blue and white polka dot grosgrain, thinking the color match was nearly spot-on. My mother favored the sheer turquoise, thinking it would lend delicacy and elegance and that the color was actually closer. As a last resort, I also grabbed the navy satin, just in case.

So now I’m peering and squinting at all three, and I just can’t decide. They all have such different characters and would subtly affect the style of the tunic. I am leaning in a certain direction, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask: which do you prefer?

In a totally different color scenario, I got yarn for two other projects recently. At right, a juicy raspberry for a (now out-of-season) Coachella. This is completely uncharacteristic for me, as I usually prefer shades of greens, blues, and brown, but something about this top and my restless need to prolong summer called out for a saturated, decadent hue.

The left is called plum wine, which is really off the deep end as far as my color choices typically go, but for some reason it spoke to me. I bought it with the intention of knitting a Lelah top (seriously in denial about the season over here), but this was before it occurred to me that I may not be able to block acrylic into a nice lace pattern. I will definitely have to test that out.

Whipstitchin’ with a Kitty

Though I have so very many other things I should be doing, I spent some time last night knitting up the back of my Summertime Tunic. I got to the turning row, admired the way it folded itself down so neatly, and finished the knitting, only to wonder “now what?”

It was with some trepidation that I tried to sort out this whole “whipstitch the live stitches” situation, but I made a few trips around the internet and came up with some good advice, along with a clue of how to do it.

One post suggested moving the live stitches onto waste yarn to facilitate sewing. I used a spare circular needle. Another explained that you simply cut a long length of yarn to do the whipstitching. Check. I made mine at least twice as long as I needed it, since, well, I’m pretty neurotic.

At this point Smokey hopped into my lap, evidently thinking I was in need of assistance.

I slipped the stitches from the circular needle onto my tapestry needle, pulled a mile of yarn through the stitch, then kind of tacked that through the back of a stitch below.

Smokey thought we were terribly clever.

I worried that it would slant left or right, so I took great pains to pull the facing straight, and I think it came out mostly alright. On hindsight, it might have behooved me to pin it in place.

Smokey had wandered off, but he came back when I had about five stitches left to sew down (he’s clearly dedicated to the cause here). He helped inspect the inside of my facing, and we agreed it was not perfect, but it was tolerable.

(I like to think if he were an LOLcat, the photo on the right would be captioned “Dis knittings good!” or “I like dis!” or similar.)

He snuggled up with the backside, I gather by way of approval.

I could see some problems on the front side, but nothing terrible. In fact by the time it’s all gathered on the ribbon, I think this method of attachment really will be virtually invisible.

My buddy’s all, “We did well.”

Now I am feeling a lot more comfortable about going on to the front, and I’m happy this tunic will be done fairly soon!

Oh right, this is a knitting blog

Believe it or not, I have been knitting, though it seems I don’t have much to show for it.

I’ve made it past the ribbing on my Summertime Tunic, finally, and am now onto what many have lovingly described as “miles of stockinette.” It’s true that this is a good activity while reading or watching TV, but I do get a little tired of it.

The ribbing looks different from most 1×1 ribbing I’ve done, and I suspect this is to do with knitting in the round. It looks better when stretched, so I’m not worried.

As for the baby sweater (see how the “baby set” has been temporarily downgraded?), I regret to say that no progress has been made.

This is what I was greeted with when I attempted to extract it from my knitting pile. That is parts of the top-down raglan mingled with a very sad, frustrating attempt to unravel the first sweater I knit with this yarn (also, the nicely-matched button thread I found back in May).

Upon dissection, it reveals two separate entities: yarn spaghetti and the sweater. The yarn spaghetti took an inordinate amount of time and blue language, and as it turns out the yarn is all frazzled and strangely textured anyway. I’m not sure I’d want to knit with it again, as I can’t imagine it having adequate stitch definition or a nice appearance.

The sweater itself suffers a major problem. Can you see where I picked the stitches back up for the sleeve? Not a pretty join.

I thought that maybe I could cover that with some embroidery, but I realize the underarm is a disaster as well. It’s possible to rectify it somewhat from the inside, but I worry that I won’t have enough yarn to finish this and the second sleeve anyway.

Mostly, since I will probably have to buy still more yarn for this project anyway, I’m tempted to knit a blanket instead, even though its intended recipient is well past the swaddling stage. Toddlers use blankets, right? An additional concern is that if I don’t get this sweater to them almost immediately, baby Gabriel will never have a chance to wear it before he outgrows it – it may be too small already.

So, quite a pickle, and not one that I’m looking forward to sorting out. Add to this the fact that I can’t find my fifth DPN, and this is one aggravated knitter.